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VOL. 125 | NO. 141 | Thursday, July 22, 2010

EPA Adds Medtronic to Green Partnership

By Tom Wilemon

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Medtronic Spinal and Biologics, one of the city’s largest purchasers of green power, has been recognized by the Environmental Protection Agency for its commitment to purchase 600,000 kilowatt-hours annually of electricity generated by the sun, wind or methane gas.

Medtronic is one of only two Memphis Light, Gas and Water Division customers that purchase 250 blocks or more of green power each month. The other is Rhodes College.

The Tennessee Valley Authority began offering green power to customers 10 years ago. MLGW joined the program on Earth Day – April 22 – in 2005.

The utility has 939 participants in the program, ranging from homeowners to small businesses to large corporations like Minneapolis-based Medtronic whose Spinal and Biologics business is in Memphis.

The EPA has added Medtronic to its Green Power Partnership, which boats 1,200 partner organizations voluntarily purchasing green power.

Paul Sorrelle, environmental health and safety director at the Medtronic Spinal and Biologics business unit, said a company goal is to cut down on its carbon footprint.

With 1,350 employees, the Medtronic campus at 1800 Pyramid Place includes two six-story buildings, a three-story building and a four-story building.

Medtronic is purchasing about 6 percent of its electricity with green power.

“There are no tax breaks or anything like that,” Sorrelle said. “It is strictly a voluntary program designed to promote development of renewable energy sources to produce electricity.”

The green power comes from 15 solar generation facilities operated by TVA, a wind facility on Buffalo Mountain in East Tennessee and methane gas from the Maxson Wastewater Treatment facility that is piped to the TVA Allen Fossil Plant, where it is co-burned with coal.

One of the 15 solar generation facilities is on the roof of the Bridges building at 477 N. Fifth St.

TVA also purchases green power from other electricity producers.

The total green power enrollment in Memphis buys nearly 6.3 million kilowatt-hours of electricity a year, said Becky Williamson, strategic marketing coordinator for MLGW. That figure translates into the reduction of 4,682 tons of carbon dioxide emissions.

“That’s the avoided emissions by not generating traditional electricity,” Williamson said. “It’s like these customers are planting 1,739 acres of trees or it is the same as taking 580 cars off the road for one year.”

Ninety-eight percent of the participants are homeowners, but they only represent 58 percent of the total blocks purchased.

Green power costs more than traditional electricity, and participation in the program has slipped with the economic downturn as businesses and people look for ways to cut costs. The 939 current participants compare to 1,048 in December 2009 and 964 in December 2008.

“I think everybody likes the idea of green power, but not everybody wants to accept the fact that it costs more to get green power,” Williamson said.

Residential customers can choose whatever monetary amount they would like to purchase, but commercial customers have to meet minimum requirements measured in blocks.

The Daily News is a “Green Power Friends” customer, a designation for those commercial customers that purchase from five to 25 blocks each month.

The next highest designation is for “Green Power Partners” that purchase 26 to 250 blocks. These customers include Belz Enterprises (Peabody Place Office Tower) and First Tennessee Bank.

The only “Green Power Leaders” are Medtronic and Rhodes, which purchase 250 blocks or more of a green power monthly.

“A block is $4 per month,” Williamson said. “For that $4, TVA is going to generate or purchase 150 kilowatt hours of renewable power.”

Besides purchasing green power, Medtronic is looking at other ways to operate in a more environmental way. The company already has power saving devices with its lighting systems.

“We also are looking at solar panels for the generation of electricity,” Sorrelle said.

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